Author Topic: Lessons Learned: Del Rio, Texas Pt. II  (Read 1393 times)

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Offline MRNO

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Lessons Learned: Del Rio, Texas Pt. II
« on: April 02, 2009, 06:52:58 pm »
Recently I wrote about a drama that took place in Del Rio, Texas two years ago but has much to teach us today.  On September 12, 2006, the City Council—after studying the issue for about a year—voted unanimously to abandon the practice of water fluoridation that had been in place since 1990. A week after the vote, the Council expressed awe as supportive emails poured in from all over the world.

“It’s amazing to me so many people are against fluoride,” said Councilwoman Pat Cole, who led   the drive to eliminate the poison.  “I thought we were dealing with a local water issue.”

But of course they weren’t.  The forces behind a relentless campaign to force fluoridation on the entire nation are federal:  they reside at the topmost levels of government, where bureaucratic greed, power-lust and face-saving meet corporate money interests.  These are the anonymous people who create the issues that won’t go away—that, roundly defeated locally, keep coming back and back again.

By October, things had changed.  On the 24th, an A-team of “experts,” from as far away as Arizona converged on Del Rio to blitz the Council into submission with a torrent of propaganda. (for the details, see my previous entry One for the Hall of Shame). By the end of the evening, all the members except Cole had been persuaded to reverse themselves. 

A review of a video taken of that meeting is depressing because of the gross abuse of authority it reveals.  But it also yields clues as to how to respond in the future.

Strategy must, naturally, be tailored to the circumstances.  In large cities where the apparatus of government is effectively walled off from the average citizen, a legal challenge or a referendum may prove the only answer.  But in smaller places where the personal connection between citizens and their elected representatives has not been severed, where one can still expect to run into one’s councilmember at the local grocery or in church,education stands a chance.  It’s encouraging to realize that since 1990, over 200 communities—most with populations well under 100,000— have voted to reject fluoride.

Del Rio fits the latter demographic.  Ending fluoridation there should have smooth sailing. 

But at the time of their first vote, the Del Rio City Council could not have foreseen the frenzied, highly-orchestrated pro-fluoride campaign their town of 36,000 would attract.  The campaigners shrewdly pitched to a border population concerned over lack of access to dental care, especially for its lowest-income members.  Then, in a classic bait and switch, they offered the toxic placebo fluoride as a substitute for real dental care.

Wherever we may live, be it small town or teeming metropolis, there are things we can learn from Del Rio’s experience.  Here are some basics to keep in mind when opposing an organized pro-fluoride campaign, particularly in a public forum.

(1)  Drop all expectations of honor and fair play.  Gone are the days when one could walk into a hearing, set out a reasonable argument, engage in civil discussion, and expect the public interest to prevail.  This is a battle in which chivalry plays no role. Indeed, the precepts of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War are more applicable.  Sun Tzu insists that one know one’s enemy.  This enemy is arrogant, devious, and extremely well-financed.

(2)  Appreciate that what transpires in the hearing room is not honest discourse.  It is theater. The fluoridationists’ performance will be carefully scripted and rehearsed, down to the last detail. They will present polished, trained speakers.  Expect that and be similarly prepared. 

(3) Bring your own expert speaker(s) from the dental/medical community.

(4)  Show strength by bringing as many supporters as you can muster.  (The other side will be sure to have its own cheerleaders on hand.)  Get T-shirts or buttons made up to boost their visibility.

(5) Last but not least:  Forge ties with the low-income sector of the community.  They must be be thoroughly engaged:  it is their children, after all, who are the pawns and pretext to keep the fluoridation game going.   

The anti-fluoride faction in Del Rio did not understand the rules of engagement.  They expected of their opponents the same honesty and forthrightness they themselves brought to the table.  As a result they committed missteps that made the other side's job easier.  In retrospect, they showed far too much deference to the "experts"—a deference that went well beyond conventional politeness.  It was as if in their efforts to appear reasonable, they bent over backwards in the opposite direction.  It didn't help their cause, nor did unintentionally self-deprecating comments along the lines of, "I'm not any kind of an expert, just a concerned citizen."  As it turned out, being a concerned citizen, or even a concerned parent, didn't count for much in the face of so much slick professional dazzle.  Unfortunately, they relied entirely on the words of concerned citizens to make their case rather than bringing some dentist or physician experts of their own. 

They also failed to marshal their considerable following.  According to a newspaper account, only about 12 of those present  represented the anti-fluoridation side of the debate, as opposed to 40 boosters (many wearing yellow pro-fluoride buttons). Had the 300 signers of the anti-fluoride petition shown up en masse, the outcome might well have been different.

The Council, for their part, did not allow themselves sufficient time to analyze all the pro-fluoride misinformation presented.  Reliant on glib arguments heard only moments before, all but Cole allowed themselves to be snowed by a battery of "professionals" and "authorities" with a corporate agenda.  The vote should have been taken at the next meeting, following a careful study of the transcript, which would have brought the pro-fluoridationists' many fallacies and misrepresentations to light. 

It's to be hoped that Del Rio will someday get another chance.  Meanwhile, there are other fights to be fought.  And those of us who dedicate ourselves to ensuring safe drinking water for all are not going away.